Kitchen ceiling light and 3-way switch


Old 05-24-07, 08:29 AM
Thread Starter
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 6
Kitchen ceiling light and 3-way switch


I am replacing a kitchen ceiling light. The on/off of the ceiling fixture is controlled by 2 switches at each end of kitchen. I removed old fixture but did not pay attention to how wires were connected.

Wires that are in the electric box are:

2 red
2 white
2 black
2 ground

I assumed that the 2 white in the box should connect with the white on the new fixture, 2 black with black and 2 ground with ground. Capped them off. Left 2 red as they were in the box (capped together).

Light works but switches don't work properly. I can turn light on, but when I turn light off the circuit breaker trips.

So what I have is total of 3 white wrapped together, 3 black wrapped together, and 2 ground wrapped together. Red left alone.

Should I have NOT connected each color wire together?

I am a novice (obviously), but want to learn. Thanks for your help.
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Old 05-24-07, 08:41 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973
Thew book you bought on home wiring should be able to help you out. You did buy a book, didn't you? Nobody should be attempting electrical modifications without understanding the basics of electricity. Electricity can and does kill people.

We can't help until you tell us the wiring at each switch. Tell us the wiring in complete detail. Tell us all the cables, and all the wires in each cable, and how all the wires are connected to anything. In telling us how the wires are connected to the switches, make sure to distinguish between the various colored screws.

Your other alternative is to use a tester at the ceiling and figure it out.

If the two red wires were capped together before you started, then you are part way there. However, the test procedure must be precise to avoid wiring the light backwards.

I hope that in this process you learn two things. I hope you learn to make detailed notes of wiring when you disconnect something, and I hope you learn the basic of three way switching, which are actually quite simple.
Old 05-24-07, 09:56 AM
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: United States
Posts: 18,497
As Bob says, this isn't going to be easy to figure out. Even after you tell us all the wiring at the switches, it won't be clear. Once cable comes from one switch, and one from the other switch, so it will become necessary to figure out which is which, because the wiring will not be symmetrical.

One thing we can tell you for sure is that connecting all wires by matching color will not be the right answer.

Unfortunately, this is going to be at least ten times harder than it needed to be. But we'll get you there eventually.
Old 05-24-07, 01:06 PM
Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: USA
Posts: 340
The first step in figuring this out can be to research the different ways that three way switches can be wired - again, this will be in your new book

I really like my Home Depot Wiring 1-2-3. When working on a home project I usually get 2 - 3 books on the topic so I can get different opinions and fill in any missing information from one book to the next. I have 4 books on electrical.
Old 05-24-07, 05:22 PM
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: welland ontario
Posts: 5,599
Sounds like we have a switch loop. One of the whites will need to be connected to a black. Tell us the wires on the switches. The import one is the common connection. It will be on the black screw. Do not disconnect any wires from the switches. Just tell us how they are connected.
Old 05-28-07, 01:35 PM
Thread Starter
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 6
Thanks everyone. I did some reading about 3-way switches and figured it out. Since the light fixture was controlled by 2 switches I realized that in order for the switches to work they needed a common connection to "talk to one another". All I had to do was to make a separate connection in the ceiling of a black and a white . That made the connection to the 2 switches. All is well with that light. I will post another message as I have a second situation a little mor complicated for me.
Old 05-28-07, 02:56 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973
Bravo. I am glad you figured it out. It;s much better that YOU figured it than if we had done so.

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